I’m really good at tuning out sound around me when I need to work, which comes in handy when you work on a floor with 120 other cubicled people. I’m able to listen to music and, depending on what I’m working on, listen to podcasts. The only time I find myself distracted by others talking (and at a reasonable level, I might add–I have polite cubicle-mates!) is when I need to read and absorb something. During those times, I need to plug in and I cannot listen to music.
I’ve been using binaural beats apps for a few years now to help provide background noise (I have a box fan running while I work but its purpose is keeping my 77 degree office bearable). More recently, I began using Binaural Beats, which has a simple interface and a timer function, which gradually transitions you from one mental wavelength (focus) to another (alertness). The science and health benefits of binaural beats aside, it works for me.